The aviation industry needs to find quicker, more efficient and pragmatic ways to deliver change at scale, without sacrificing safety. The question is how?

Air navigation service providers have found some success by collaborating with outside companies where mutual interest exists. Both LFV and NATS have invested in companies that are strongly positioned in remote and digital towers. Similarly, NAV Canada was the first ANSP investor in Aireon, the developer of space-based ADS-B services, later joined by the Irish Aviation Authority, Naviair, ENAV and again NATS. Skyguide together with AirMap is developing and deploying Europe’s first nationwide drone management system, the Swiss U-space, and earlier this year successfully demonstrated the U-space infrastructure. In the Netherlands, Royal NLR is working with small satellite company Hyperion to develop a hardware platform for high-performance computing, as well as solutions to bottlenecks in communication, like deployable antennas for small satellites. In Germany, DLR has established a simulation laboratory to develop virtual certificates for aircraft components.

What these initiatives have in common is that they involve strategic partnerships and they typically address a specific problem or opportunity, which is why the initiative gathers momentum. But do they exhibit the essential elements – required to achieve widespread change?

Three essential elements

Vision – Innovation needs direction, objectives and a clear roadmap for how to get there. But even ‘mundane’ change can be hard to implement at scale, especially in a highly regulated sector such as ANS. One answer is to demonstrate benefits on a small scale with those that have most to gain to encourage uptake on a larger scale. This worked well for Avinor, for example, when they implemented iPads in the tower environment.

Pragmatic planning – Too many grand visions fail because there is no pragmatic plan for how to transition from the status quo. There will always be significant barriers to achieving large scale change. Identifying barriers early on and focussing innovation activities on mitigating these barriers is essential. Stakeholder consultation is a must, helped by ‘quick wins’ to build momentum.

Leadership – Ultimately success relies on changing the hearts and minds of the majority, including the doubters and the non-believers, and this requires leadership. Leadership is recognising the potential for the crazy idea and having the courage to invest in it, the clarity to sell the vision and the focus to know who to sell it to.

The same approach is needed to tackle the big questions affecting the future of ANS: modernising airspace structure; wide-scale exchange of real-time data between actors; automation tools using intelligent algorithms – and the changing role of the ATCO. The innovation activities the industry has embarked upon so far are steps in the right direction. However, they need to align with a wider vision, be pragmatic by focussing on the areas that will bring the most value and take managed risks to deliver change at scale.

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